There is nothing like being regarded as a problem. Problems are not comfortable. Others do not want to be around people with problems. One makes an effort to appear as if one had no problems. In other words, one should not have any problems.

The province of the transformations of the soul in western society remains, for the most part, that of medicine and psychotherapy. Mostly, both acknowledge problems, rather than the states of evolution and transformation of the soul.

However, as James Hillman points out in his unusual book, Suicide and the Soul (Harper and Row, 1964), a therapist used to be considered an attendant of the soul. In fact, it is often through psychotherapy as a first step that the seeker will discover his or her soul even now. For example, the spiritual teacher Ram Dass entered therapy and then became a therapist.

Another name for the attendant of the soul came from a Greek word, myeutic, meaning midwife. A therapist was a healer who participated, according to Hillman, in the Dionysian aspects of transformation (the soul in its secrecy and mystery, in the extremes and depths of feeling) as well as the Apollonian aspects (the soul in consciousness). The therapist, healer, witness, assisted in the delivery, or the deliverance, of the soul. They were expected to have participated in these mysteries themselves; they understood the journey and could act as guides.

As most modern therapy and medicine has denied the existence of the soul in quest, it is not surprising that the seekers go on to other experience. For example, Ram Dass began to experiment with drugs and then turned to Eastern religions. Eastern religions bring back the concept of the soul attendant in its original sense. Here the teacher or guru must be considered a master, or knowledgeable through experience in the transformation of the soul. Here, too, problems are thought of in their true sense as enigmas and mysteries, not to be gotten rid of, as symptoms of illness or imbalance.

Yet the criteria for a modern-day western therapist or soul attendant is rarely to have lived through the intense transformations by which he or she could become a guide or a healer in the Dionysian sense: “Dionysus is involvement . . . Dionysos offers involvement in suffering, and the mark of the hero-healer here would be that ability to undergo in oneself the trials of emotion and through these emotions find an identification with the same powers in the other.” (Hillman)

What did the ancients mean when they said one must go through air, earth, fire and water to be released? These were elements of the human personality that all would have to experience in order to be transformed. Let us take water as an example. There are tales of “foolish” or “primitive” peoples believing the moon fell into the sea and fishing for it with a net. And yet these tales are simply metaphors for the psychic quality of water. A person with strong characteristics of “water” or emotion may often not be able to explain the origin of his or her feelings, whether they are inside or whether they are being reflected from the outside. To go through water one must learn to redifferentiate one’s self and not pick up or reflect everything from one’s environment.

The modern day Apollonian healer regards the struggles of the transforming soul as problems and therefore hastens to bring everything to light because only the light is good, not the passage of the soul in mystery. “One cannot report about a mystery, because one cannot speak about what one is in. ‘About’ means ‘from the outside,’ and to get there where report is possible one would have to leave where one is. The participant in a mystery is still in as long as the vessel is closed. To step out of a living experience by telling about it means to share no longer this livingness. It means death . . . Resistance and secrecy therefore are based upon the unknown and unknowable at the core of psychic life . . . Formulation turns the unknown at the core of psychic life into a ‘problem.’ And it is an error to confuse psychological problems with the mysteries of the soul, on the one hand mystifying problems, while on the other trying to resolve mysteries. The soul, though problematic, is not a problem, but a mystery.” (Hillman) Yet, “. . . the patient presents his case history and his body as if both were outside his inner life. The body is anyway not concealed as is the soul; its facts are objectified, public, whereas the soul is in essence private and secret.”

Although discourse by the client is encouraged, it is in the realm of problem solving, not of mutual soul attendance. In fact, according to Hillman, the very confidence the therapist promises the client is supposed to lead to almost immediate intimacy. Often if the client does not feel this intimacy and wishes to get to know the therapist better, he or she is accused of wanting to evade therapy. As Hillman points out, “A secret can be shared only between two people, not between one person and a profession.”

The modern trend towards self disclosure in some way counterbalances a kind of independence that would deny the need for others. Yet the trend towards disclosure without discrimination and as problems, rather than as shared rites of passage, is another spiritual denial: “One keeps one’s secrets until one feels that the other person with whom one is about to share a secret also views it as sacred. For this, trust must be built up between two people.” (Hillman)

To share the secrets of one’s soul, in particular to speak of one’s spiritual journey as a problem, with one whom trust and confidence have not been built, is to participate in an act of degradation, similar to the sexual experience without love and confidence. As we have been taught to exercise little discrimination in the choice of sexual partners, likewise we exercise little discrimination in the choice of our attendants and friends in the quest of transformation. Bodies and spirit cannot be given carelessly, without suffering.

The hasidic jews understood the difference between the zaddick (rabbi or teacher) who rises up from the people, and the professional zaddick, who achieves credentials in schools. The two were rarely one. Similarly, in small communities and tribes there was always the wise person or shaman, who could attend to the soul, and its birth. People instinctively trusted them because they knew they knew!

These people are still among us today. We ourselves may eventually become them, yet there is still the tendency to doubt, as the light of Apollo is strong within us. It takes courage to resist the tendency to speed the process of transformation and to believe in the individuality of the soul in mystery, rather than in problem.